By Kyle Clifford Knapp for PCGS ……
Mintmarks provide an easy tool for identifying a coin’s mint of origin and have been used in various forms (sometimes a symbol or character) on coins from ancient times until the present. As most collectors of a series or denomination typically aspire to own examples from all United States branch mints within their area of specialty, both problems and opportunities are created when mintmarks don’t appear.
Often one of the first such rarities a collector encounters is the 1922 “No D” Lincoln cent. Long known as a key to the series, this delicacy is not, in fact, an issue of the Philadelphia Mint (the usual case for United States coins of that era without a mintmark), but rather one made in Denver with a particular striking deficiency that provides a wonderfully coincidental substitute for the only [missing] year among Philadelphia strikes of the Wheat cent series. The obverse die was likely over-polished after a heavy clash (the coming together of striking dies without a coin in between), resulting in a total erasure of the “D” mintmark.
However, this instance was not the first time a branch mint inadvertently struggled to identify itself on its products.
The earliest widespread instances of difficulty in rendering mintmarks can be dated back to the opening decades of United States branch mints (and therefore mintmarks), on the Charlotte and Dahlonega half eagles of the 1850s. PCGS recognizes “Weak C” varieties for the 1850 and 1854 Charlotte issues, and “Weak D” for Dahlonega pieces of 1850, 1851, and 1854. The 1850 issue illustrated at the beginning of this article is identifiably Dahlonegan by virtue of its bold rims, date placement, and the easily recognizable die crack connecting the bottoms of the letters on the lower left reverse; the 1850-D half eagles are indeed scarcer with a bold mintmark than with a weak one!
Another mid-19th-century southern gold example sometimes comes with added complexity. Charlotte half eagles of 1854 appear either with a “Weak C” situated above the “E” (of “FIVE”) or a stronger mintmark placed above “IV”. On some pieces, the weakly impressed “C” is further obfuscated by grease-filled dies, as in the spectacular uncirculated example pictured here.
Considering other series, 1865 and 1866 San Francisco Liberty Seated dimes often have weak mintmarks that can nearly disappear in circulated grades. In such cases, other diagnostic criteria must be used, as the contemporary (unmarked) Philadelphia issues are far scarcer. The illustrated piece (1866-S Fortin-101) has a typically faint mintmark, but also note the sharply down-sloping date. There are no obverse dies from Philadelphia in 1866 with a similar inclination, making the geographic origin apparent even before one turns the coin over. PCGS recognizes and assigns Fortin designations for all Liberty Seated Dimes submitted under the variety attribution service, and familiarity with such information is often an essential part of the authentication process.
Perhaps the most “cherry-pickable” hidden mintmark appearing on this list is the 1911-D Weak D quarter eagle.
The Denver Mint evidently encountered difficulties in its first year of producing the smaller-sized incuse denomination, with one of the two die pairs reportedly emitting only 70 pieces. A total mintage of 55,680 makes the 1911-D the uncontested rarity of the series and thus it carries a significant premium over its Philadelphia counterpart. Mintmark visibility ranges from bold to virtually non-existent, but all pieces have distinctive “Denver” rims, and a series of scalloping marks running above “ES O” (as in “STATES OF”), usually visible on even significantly worn specimens. PCGS has separate coin numbers for Weak D and Strong D versions.
What other “missing” mintmarked pieces might be buyable at a coin show for the informed numismatist’s benefit? The 1912-S and 1913-S Indian half eagles often have a poorly rendered or partially faded mintmark and are scarcer than the corresponding Philadelphia issues. A small group of 1982-P Roosevelt dimes was struck without a visible “P” mintmark, examples of which have been found in pocket change!
Finally, remember that one-offs of nearly any issue are theoretically possible should the mintmark (recessed on the die) become occluded with grease, making the other characteristic identifiers of origin (die markers, surface fabric, and aesthetic idiosyncrasy) necessary parts of a thoughtful and thorough authentication.
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